“I've got a situation here, and right now I'm using duct tape to hold things together.”
For the folks at Siftex, this is an all-too-familiar cry for help. Their customers may be moving product from a square transition to a round inlet, the product temperature might be too high for the connector’s material to withstand, or there might already be a mess of citric acid on the floor because a connector failed.
Solving these types of problems is Siftex’s raison d'être. Founder Richard Weil spent much of his career working at a company that made industrial process equipment, and he was constantly frustrated with the flexible connectors on the sifters wearing out prematurely. So, when he retired in 1983, he decided to launch a second career designing better flexible connectors that would reduce downtime and save on maintenance costs.
“My dad ran Siftex for about three years,” says Steve Weil, the company’s current president. “And then my mom basically said, ‘Richard, if you don't get off that phone and take me to Paris like you promised, we're going to end up in a fight.’” Steve took over the business in the late 1980s. Today, his son, Ric, is also part of the company, working in the design and production department.
Siftex designs and makes a variety of fittings and flexible connectors, as well as the Crumb-Catcher™, which collects crumbs, raisins, packaging components, and other contamination risks from under conveyors. The majority of their business is in the food processing industry, but the products can be used in any process that requires transferring powders or bulk solids. Siftex covers the market, working with OEMs, end users, and also through resellers.
How to find the perfect fit
When it comes to flexible connectors, Weil says, “No two are the same.” The inlets and outlets on processing equipment are all different shapes and sizes, so Siftex spends a lot of time designing custom connectors that are easy to install, won’t leak, and are CIP-able. “We do a lot of custom work here in our South Windsor, CT, location,” Weil says. “We have a Gerber computerized cutter, a full set of CAD stations, and a number of hot air welding and 3D printing machines to produce custom flexible connectors.”
Regardless of whether you’re in the market for a standard part or need a custom solution, here are some tips for selecting connectors.
Choose your material wisely
One major misconception Siftex runs across is that many people believe that all rubber is neoprene. In reality, Siftex works with roughly a dozen types of rubber, each of which has characteristics that make it ideal for some applications but not for others. That’s why it’s crucial that you choose your connector based on the products that will be moving through it. One especially important consideration is temperature.
“If the customer tells us they are processing hot oil, the last thing you want to give them is natural gum tubing, because it's going to swell and crack within a few hours,” Weil says. “Likewise, if they're running a chemical or CIP process through it, you typically want to offer them EPDM.” That’s ethylene propylene diene monomer, and it’s designed to handle acids, oxygenated solvents, abrasive materials, and temperatures as high as 290°F.
Another good flexible connector material for CIP applications is PTFE. This material is extremely flexible and abrasion resistant. There’s also transparent, large diameter, seamless tubing — the Clear-Flex SDX. “It surprises people to recommend a clear film that holds up as well or even better than thick rubber,” Weil says.
Ensure compliance with all applicable safety requirements
Whatever material you choose, make sure it meets all safety requirements. All of Siftex’s rubber compounds are tested by a rubber testing laboratory for FDA direct food contact acceptability. Their Clear-Flex SDX polyurethane has been tested by Intertek and SGS Baseefa to verify that it meets all FDA and European food safety requirements for repeated food contact as well as static dissipation capabilities which exceed the ATEX Zone 20, 21, 22 standards. “We spend a lot of time and money on making sure that the materials we provide are exactly what the customer needs in terms of food safety and food contact,” Weil says.
Weil notes that there’s sometimes confusion as to what documentation is required for safety verification. Customers frequently ask for material safety data sheets (MSDSs), but these are for ingredients. Since what Siftex produces is not an ingredient — it's a rubber vulcanized part or a welded polyurethane piece — the appropriate documentation is a technical data sheet, not an MSDS.
“At the end of the day, processors just need to have documentation that says this material is safe for food contact and that if something happens, it's not going to put people at risk,” Weil says.
Consider BFM® fittings
Imagine a flexible connector that could snap in and out of a fitting without any tools or clamps. It might sound too good to be true, but it’s not. BFM® fittings, a product of BFM Global, have been available since 2007, and Siftex was the first distributor in the Americas to carry them.
It took some time for the innovative snap-in, snap-out design to catch on. The disbelief subsided once processors discovered how much downtime the fittings can eliminate by making maintenance easier. “You really have to get out in front of people and show them what's new,” Weil says. “We did and continue to do a lot of demonstrations, and now BFM is one of our fastest-growing products.”
Compensating for reduced storeroom inventory and dwindling maintenance staff
Weil sees two trends in the industry right now that are impacting processor efficiency: reduced storeroom inventory and a lack of adequate maintenance staff.
On the storeroom front, food plants are cutting their inventory by stocking only the most critical components. Flexible connectors don’t usually make the cut. “As much as I love flexible connectors and have built a career out of designing and selling them,” Weil says, “people oftentimes don't think of their flexible connector as being a critical item, so they don't keep enough in stock. We get a lot of calls asking for expedited deliveries.”
To help processors keep both their inventory and their downtime to a minimum, Siftex has reduced its standard lead time to under three weeks and offers one week expedited service.
The shrinking maintenance workforce is another challenge. “One of the biggest obstacles I see is that maintenance staff is stretched thin,” Weil says. “Finding good maintenance personnel who understand the automation and the sophisticated equipment in a plant, along with all of the sanitation and breakdown requirements of the equipment, is very difficult.”
This situation makes it more important than ever that food processors partner with companies that understand their needs and can solve issues quickly and efficiently.
Whatever products you process, Siftex can supply the connections you need. “We’re set up to be a one-stop shop for flexible connectors and dust control products,” Weil says. “We’re happy to go through resellers because we know a lot of plants are trying to reduce the number of vendors they work with. Or you can visit our website and buy direct 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
Siftex will be exhibiting at PROCESS EXPO, a show that Weil calls “the who's who of our customer list,” adding that “it's a great opportunity for us to meet senior level people, as well as the people who are working in the plants.” Visit Booth #1470 at PROCESS EXPO to see and learn more from the Siftex team.